Foreigners planning to get behind the wheel in Laos are often unsure what to expect when it comes to traffic and road conditions.
Driving is a great way for tourists to enjoy the country’s beautiful scenery and also offers great flexibility when planning the travel itinerary.
International visitors should be prepared for a motoring experience quite different from that back home and be aware of the requirements for hiring a vehicle in Laos, information about which can be found below.
Driving on Local Roads and Highways in Laos
There is an extensive road network in Laos serving the entire country. Although the infrastructure is relatively basic, driving is easier for tourists in Laos than in other Asian countries given that few cars circulate outside the larger cities.
Provided foreigners are cautious and follow standard road safety advice, they shouldn’t encounter any issues on the roads in Laos.
Are there highways in Laos?
There are currently just under 14,000 miles of highway in Laos. Over 6,000 miles of these highways are paved whilst the rest remain unpaved. None of the highways have tolls.
Paved highways are generally in decent condition whilst extra care should be taken when navigating dirt roads as they can become dusty.
The most important Laotian highway is Route 13 which starts at Boten, next to the land border with China, and leads to the border with Cambodia, passing Vientiane on the way.
Route 13 is mostly paved although drivers should watch out for sharp bend in the road.
What side of the road do they drive on in Laos?
Laotians drive on the right-hand side of the road. As there often are no road markings, foreigners need to ensure they remain on the correct side, especially if this is the opposite of what they are used to.
As when traveling by road in any country, it is essential that motorists and cyclists remain aware of the other vehicles around them and exercise good road sense.
Laotian Legal requirements for motorists
In addition to following general safety advice above, tourists must be aware of 2 major laws enforced in Laos.
The first is that using a mobile phone whilst driving is totally prohibited, this includes hands-free.
The Blood Alcohol Content limit is 0.08, checks are frequent so it is best to avoid drinking altogether before making a car journey.
Safety Advice for Foreign Drivers in Laos
To avoid any issues behind the wheel in Laos, foreigners are advised to take the following safety considerations into account:
- Many roads are narrow and winding so care is required
- The weather in Laos affects surfaces, avoid traveling by car or bike in the monsoon season when roads can become flooded and damaged
- Driving after dark is not recommended as there may be animals which cannot be spotted
- Carry a map of Laos, especially when traveling long distances
- Traffic signs are in Lao, the national language, but are also found in English near tourist attractions and airports
How to Hire a Car in Laos
There are several car hire companies in Laos, particularly concentrated around the capital, Vientiane, and the airport.
To drive on unpaved roads, a larger vehicle or 4 x 4 is a safe choice, a smaller car is adequate if the trip is limited to more built-up and downtown areas.
Foreigners wishing to rent a car in Laos must be at least 23 years of age and have all the necessary documentation including:
- Valid passport
- International Driving Permit
- National driver’s license
- Valid visa for Laos
Although the hire car company may not request to see the Laos visa, it is important that foreign visitors keep a copy of the travel document on their person.
Citizens of many countries can apply online for the Laos visa, the approved permit is sent by email to be printed and kept to hand throughout the trip.
In addition, if entering Laos via a land border crossing, it is essential to have a valid Laos visa to be granted access.
How to obtain an International Driving Permit for Laos
The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of the national license and is a requirement when hiring a car or other vehicle in Laos.
The permit is issued by the tourist’s home country and should be carried at all times when behind the wheel in Laos.
This permit is valid for foreign drivers in Laos as the country is part of the United Nations’ Road Traffic Convention.
How much does it cost to hire a car in Laos?
Cars are available for different budgets and needs. Larger cars and SUVs are recommended for navigating less developed roads.
The following is an approximate guide to prices for one-day car hire:
- Small car for 5 people and 1 piece of luggage: from $30
- Medium car for 5 people and 2 pieces of luggage: from $70
- SUV for 5 people and 3 pieces of luggage: from $80
Advice for Renting a Motorbike in Laos
Some tourists choose to rent a motorbike in Laos as it is a speedy way to get around whilst enjoying the landscapes.
Motorcyclists should have an IDP based on the motorbike license from their home nation as well as the original permit.
When hiring a motorbike, foreigners should take into consideration the following for maximum security and safety:
- Check the bike thoroughly, reporting any damage or mechanical issues
- Pay to rent a helmet if one is not included in the price of the bike
- Wear long trousers and shoes for protection
It costs around $50 to hire a motorbike for one day in Laos.
Getting Around Laos by Bicycle
Cycling is an excellent way to see Laos given that there is relatively little traffic on the roads.
It is common to see locals and tourists alike riding bicycles in the cities as well as in rural areas.
Basic bicycles can be hired for approximately $14 day, however, to cycle on the less developed roads a mountain bike is recommended for about $50 a day.